It’s been a busy day, so let’s relax with some really useful trivia:
Q: I’m confused when I hear “the Vatican,” “the Holy See,” and “Vatican City.” Are they all the same thing?
Read more from the papal answer man, Chris Bellitto and his new book, 101 Questions on Popes and the Papacy.


A: No. “The Vatican” is the most generic of these three terms. When most people say or think of “the Vatican,” they think of an official place of business or authority, along the lines of what people mean when they say “the White House said today…” or “Buckingham Palace officials told reporters…”.

Bellitto%20Book%20Cover.jpgThe Vatican didn’t become “the Vatican” in this sense until the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The four medieval general councils held at Rome under direct papal supervision did not meet on the Vatican hill, for instance, but at the Lateran basilica and are called Lateran I, II, III, and IV. Not until the nineteenth century was a general council called by the name Vatican: Vatican I met in 1869-1870 and Vatican II followed about a century later, 1962-1965.
“The Holy See” is a more formal, diplomatic, and governmental title; the phrase is, in fact, the one used at the United Nations. “Holy See”—coming from the word sedes or chair/seat of authority—refers to the papacy’s authority to rule the church, in a sense, and is often used interchangeably with “Apostolic See.” There is a unique character to “the Holy See,” since it does not have to refer to any geographic spot on the map. It is not the same thing as Vatican City, which is a geographic designation you will find in an atlas.
Vatican City is that city-state formed by the 1929 Lateran Treaty. It houses the papal apartments, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum, gardens, residences, offices, bank, post office, electric plant, security, and legal system.
–From “101 Questions on Popes and the Papacy” by Christopher M. Bellitto; published by the Paulist Press and reprinted with permission of the publisher.
More from Beliefnet and our partners
previous posts

Thank you for visiting Benedictions. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Prayer Plain and Simple Happy Reading!!!

Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput combines an intellectual’s depth with the doughty persona of a politicker, which is what he used to be–he worked for the RFK campaign and later, even as a priest, was a campaign volunteer for Jimmy Carter. Some say he’s still a political operative, though for the other side. Over at First […]

The elaborate courtship of Texas televangelist John Hagee–who is covering McCain’s evangelical flank–and the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, who accused Hagee of anti-Catholicism for his “Great Whore” sermonizing and other standard anti-papist barbs, always seemed to hold about as much suspense as a prearranged marriage. The diligent ministrations the designated Catholic shadchen for the GOP, […]

An item in the current edition of The Tablet of London hints at a possible opening for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion–even though many do, obviously, their ban from the altar under church law remains one of the sorest pastoral points in the US church. It is also a sore point in Austria, […]